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Gila Monster

Heloderma suspectum

A Lizard with Bite

The Gila monster is the only venomous lizard in the U.S., and one of the few in the entire world. These lizards are dark black with orange blotches. Native to the deserts of the Southwest, these lizards are named for Arizona’s Gila River Basin where they were first discovered.

About the Species

Beneficial Venom

The Gila monster had a very powerful bite and venomous saliva. Grooves in the teeth help direct the flow of saliva into the flesh, and the lizard may continue to chew to try to get the venom further into the victim's flesh. Although the bite is very painful, there is no antivenom, as there have been no reported deaths in the U.S. The venom of the Gila monster seems to be more of a defense than a weapon, however. Most of the Gila monster's diet consists of eggs or animals small enough that they would be killed by the powerful bite alone. The venom from the Gila monster is being used for medicinal research. Scientists have studied the proteins that make up the venom in order to create new medication for Type 2 diabetes patients.

Words From the Experts


The Gila monster is one of only two species of lizard in the world that has venom that is considered medically significant.



Did You Know?

Gila monsters are able to go months between meals, and can eat 1/3 of their body weight at one time!


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Southwest United States and northwest New Mexico

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Desert and semi desert

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2 feet long | 3–5 pounds

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Eggs, carrion, small mammals, reptiles, invertebrates

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Larger animals

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Natural Defenses

Venomous saliva

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Up to 12 eggs per clutch

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Near threatened

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Life Expectancy

20 years

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